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Mexico is one of the most vibrant and exciting countries in the world to go backpacking. From ancient Mayan pyramids through to exotic Caribbean beaches, colorful colonial towns, and an incredible street food culture, it’s easy to see why Mexico is topping travelers’ bucket lists. The country is easy to travel through, with several bus companies running routes between the top destinations and relatively cheap flights between cities. We recommend backpacking on a route running from the colorful Yucatan Peninsula through to Mexico City, with stops along the way in the beautiful colonial town of San Cristobal de las Casas and Mexico’s food capital of Oaxaca City. Here are the best places to visit when backpacking in Mexico:
Why not start your trip on an exotic beach in Mexico? If your flight lands at Cancun International Airport, you’re within a short drive from some of the best, white sand beaches in the Yucatan. Isla Mujeres is a short boat ride from Cancun and lies just 8 miles off the coast of Cancun. The island has sugar-white sand and crystal clear turquoise waters. It’s a great place to go scuba diving or snorkeling on the surrounding coral reef.
Isla Holbox is a backpacker’s dream. The tiny island, which is a three-hour bus and boat ride from Cancun airport, will leave you feeling like you’re Robinson Crusoe, as there are no cars and no proper roads. The only way of getting around the island is by walking, riding a bike or hopping on a golf cart taxi. There’s not much to do on the island other than eat grilled fish, drink frozen margaritas and watch the incredible views of the sun setting over perfectly turquoise water.
You have to see at least one pre-hispanic Mayan ruin during your time in Mexico, so why not visit Chichen Itza, one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’. It’s a complex of Mayan Ruins that was home to a large, ancient city that thrived from 600 AD through to 1200 AD. During the Mayan era, Chichen Itza was a powerful trade center for cloth, slaves, and salt. The ruins include an enormous pyramid that once towered over the ancient city and you can see intricate stone carvings alongside the remnants of various temples. After spending the day exploring Chichen Itza you can stay at one of the beautiful nearby cities of Valladolid or Merida, which are known for their bright buildings.
San Cristóbal de las Casas
San Cristobal is a quaint highland town that’s emerging as one of the top backpacking spots in Mexico. The town, which is in the state of Chiapas, is a convenient stop-off point between the Yucatan and the state of Oaxaca. While the route in and out of Chiapas has been known to be dangerous due to political tensions (always take care on night buses), this doesn’t deter backpackers from wanting to visit Chiapas to see more of the real Mexico. The town is known for beautiful colonial architecture and stunning surrounding mountains that you can explore on horseback. It’s off the mainstream tourist trail and will offer an insight into life in the Mexican highlands.
If you’re a food lover, the state of Oaxaca will blow your taste buds off. Everywhere you walk in Oaxaca City you’ll be greeted with the smell of Mexican cuisine wafting from street food stalls and restaurants, from delicious quesadillas, through to bowls of Oaxacan hot chocolate with sweet bread, and plates of piping hot mole — meat cooked in a thick, chocolate and chili sauce. The city of Oaxaca itself is a beautiful place to explore with cacti lining the streets. It’s a top place for buying traditional Mayan textiles and handcrafted gifts too.
Puerto Escondido on the Oaxacan coast is one of the top backpacking destinations in Mexico. It’s a laid-back beach town known for its great surfing, wild nightlife and delicious fish tacos. Kick back under a thatched-roof bar with a cocktail and unwind after a busy few weeks exploring. There are tons of cool hostels with great, social atmospheres.
It will take you a few moments to adjust to Mexico’s enormous, bustling capital city. The densely populated capital is home to a treasure-trove of cultural activities, from seeing the Baroque Catedral Metropolitana de México to viewing artistic masterpieces by the likes of Diego Rivera at the of the Palacio Nacional, and exploring some of the city’s hectic markets. Make the day trip to the Sun and Moon Pyramids, which is around a one-hour bus ride from the city. The pyramid of the sun was built in the 2nd century AD and is the third largest pyramid in the world. It towers over the ancient city of Teotihuacan, which at its peak was home to more than 100,000 people.